Headings are second-generation headlines, words or phrases that introduce sections of a piece of content and thus help a writer organize the content into smaller components. This post describes three categories of headings and their functions.
1. Question Headings
A question heading, as you might have guessed, is a heading in the interrogative case. A question heading like “How Do Widgets Make Your Job Easier?” directs a reader’s attention because it implies that the text that follows the heading will answer that question.
Question headings are useful in content that serves as an informational resource, such as an instructional procedure, a troubleshooting guide, or a website’s FAQ (frequently asked questions) page. But they can also serve to organize more qualitative information intended to expand readers’ knowledge, such as headings that ask the difference between various political systems, religions, or philosophies.
2. Statement Headings
Statement headings are those that include a noun and a verb, forming a complete thought. Newspaper headlines are the model for this form: “Widgets Make Your Job Easier” is an example of a statement heading.
Statement headings are ideal for straightforward content when question headings aren’t appropriate or desired. They express a fact or an opinion, and they signal that the content following them will provide details that support that fact or argue that opinion.
3. Topic Heading
A topic heading consists of a single word or a short (or not-so-short) phrase that serves as a label identifying the topic of the content that follows: Sample topic headings include “Widgets,” “Benefits of Widgets,” and “How to Use Widgets to Make Your Job Easier.” Topic headings can introduce functional content, but they’re the type of heading best suited for leisure reading — content intended to entertain rather than inform.
Topic headings can be the most challenging to write because they don’t necessarily provide much information. The first two examples, above, for instance, aren’t very specific; only the third one matches the sample question and statement headings for utility. Topic headings do invite more creativity, including wordplay and alliteration, but “Workout Widgets” and “Widgets and Gadgets,” for example, might require more context, like an image, or a transitional sentence at the end of the previous section, to be of much use.
Also, note that the more conceptual a topic heading is, the less likely it is to support an online search, because it probably includes fewer keywords than an equivalent heading formatted according to one of the other heading styles.